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Originally published May 31, 2013 at 8:14 PM | Page modified June 1, 2013 at 10:44 AM

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‘Tuba Man’ killer: Prison best place for me to be now

Billy Chambers, who as a teenager was involved in the beating death of Ed “Tuba Man” McMichael, was sentenced Friday to six years in federal prison for an unrelated firearms charge.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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There was an odd moment of agreement Friday during the sentencing for Billy Chambers on a firearms charge. Everybody involved, including Chambers himself, agreed that federal prison was the best place for him right now.

Chambers, 20, who as a teenager gained notoriety as one of the boys involved in the 2008 beating death of a beloved Seattle street musician, Ed “Tuba Man” McMichael, agreed to a six-year federal prison sentence and three years of probation. During sentencing in U.S. District Court in Seattle, he promised to use that time to better himself.

There was agreement, too, that Chambers has never had any real supervision, no positive male role models and suffered repeated beatings by his felon father. He and his sister were passed from family member to family member, none of whom were up to the challenge of raising a troubled boy.

“Both of his parents were addicts who showed remarkably little interest in raising their children,” said defense attorney Peter Avenia, who said his client suffers from his “Tuba Man” notoriety.

“How different he is from his public profile,” Avenia said. “He is not resistant or defiant in any way. He is someone who has been searching for structure his whole life.”

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik told Chambers that the court and prosecutors recognized his difficult past, but that his appearance in federal court offered him a “chance to write the next chapter in his life.”

Whether it will be tragic, with Chambers dead or in prison for life, or a “success story” with him rising above his past and circumstances, is up to him, the judge said.

“Now, that would be a story, right?” the judge asked.

“Yes,” Chambers said.

“This is a chance to turn your life around,” Lasnik said. “Do you have that in you?”

“I know I do,” Chambers replied, saying he wanted to get his GED and raise his son when he gets out.

The next time he breaks the law and is sentenced to prison, Lasnik said, it likely would be for decades.

Afterward, Chambers’ 23-year-old sister, Machelle Chambers, who suffered through much of the same childhood abuse, said her little brother was “misunderstood” and that his time in prison “is much needed because he’s going to have to grow up and be a man.”

Chambers was arrested on Oct. 3 by King County sheriff’s deputies who stopped a car he was driving in Burien after someone reported the vehicle had been involved in a car prowl, according to charging documents. In the trunk, deputies found a Bushmaster AR-15 assault-style rifle that was reported stolen in a residential burglary in 2010.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Hobbs noted the weapon was the sort that had been “repeatedly used to kill people and used in mass killings,” and the theft would have put that gun on Seattle’s streets.

Chambers later told police he had agreed to drive two friends to a “house where they ‘sell guns’ ” so his friends could steal firearms, according to the documents.

Under federal firearms law, Chambers — as a felon — is not allowed to be in the vicinity of weapons. Merely being in the car put him in what the law calls “constructive possession” of the weapon.

Chambers was just 15 when he and two friends attacked McMichael, robbing and beating him so badly that his injuries eventually claimed his life. McMichael, 53, was a fixture outside Seattle sporting events, where he often played a tuba.

Chambers, who was convicted of manslaughter in juvenile court, spent nearly 18 months at Maple Lane School in Centralia for McMichael’s death and another robbery on the same night.

Since then, he has been arrested at least five times and convicted of crimes on two separate occasions.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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